Rediscovering Leonard Cohen

My earliest memory of Leonard Cohen is this: Inexplicably, when I was a young Catholic school girl, a copy of Leonard Cohen’s novel, Beautiful Losers, found its way into my hands. It was fascinating, and ultimately, appalling, filled with endless and maybe mindless explicit sex that I had no understanding of, much less any appetite for. In our school girl uniforms (knife-pleated. mid-calf grey and blue plaid skirts, crisp white blouses, gray wool blazers), my friend Sharon and I signaled our disapproval and ritualistically set fire to Leonard’s novel and dumped it in the river at Point Park. Take that, Leonard.

A few years later, in college, I began to learn Leonard Cohen songs in my fledgling and amateurish run at playing the guitar. The more chaste variety. Suzanne and That’s No Way to Say Goodbye. Post-college, my guitar having been stolen from the dump of an apartment I inhabited while in law school, and my being without any musical talent, guitar-playing or singing-wise, Leonard eventually moved out of my consciousness.

Thirty-five years later (at age 60), I have rediscovered Leonard Cohen (at age 78). All because Leonard, who had been living as a Buddhist monk, was defrauded of his life’s savings, and had to go back on the road to support himself. Even in his 70s, Leonard still had it, or maybe had even more of it, because his tours were so successful that the recording of one ended up on my local PBS station–during the fundraising season, no less. Leonard was talented, and maybe sexy.

All of which inspired me to read Leonard’s bio by Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man. Filled with interesting facts that help one to understand the context of Leonard’s songs. Like the identity of Suzanne, like the comedy/tragedy of Chelsea Hotel, where the author actually identifies and uses a word new to me–fellatrix. The history of what sure seemed like Leonard’s mental illness, and relationships aplenty, but none that seemed to stick.

Throughout my reading of this biography, I had one recurring thought, that Leonard is the kind of man that your mother warned you about. Talented, tormented, charming, and utterly without the commitment gene. I thought that somewhere in between the time of my Catholic school girl book-burning and my 60 year old self, there would have been plenty of years when the Leonards of the world would have held great appeal, and actually, did. How much wiser I feel now, to see through all of that. How much wiser I feel now, to see through all of that. Again. . .I said that to myself many times, and meant it. Life cannot just be about making love (I use a euphemism; Leonard didn’t) in unmade beds. Especially not at 60.

Then I bought one of Leonard’s recent CDs. Voice gravelly, sometimes more speaking than singing. Great instrumentation. I listened to it sailing along the interstate. Leonard appears to have learned some lessons about life and love and sex and loss. What words! The first time I heard Closing Time I almost had to stop the car and make sure of what I was hearing. Like a portrait simultaneously raw and nuanced. Geez, Leonard, how complicated this stuff of life and love and sex can be. Still. At 60, and I guess, at 78.

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Where have all the burglars gone, and the war against women

Where have all the burglars gone? is a headline from an article in the July 20, 2013 issue of the Economist. The author reports that crime, including murder, is down worldwide. The explanation? Demographics, better technology that foils would be thieves, different and better policing tactics, and my favorite–that things formerly worth stealing, like electronics, have come down in price that the risk is no longer worth it. As the author says, “There is little point in burgling a home to steal a DVD player worth $30.”

Buried in the article is this, too. “Not all crime is falling. Sexual offences, which often go unrecorded, may be becoming more or less common.” I think of the women who got on buses in India and were gangraped. But actually I think more often about my own little piece of paradise, the Upper Connecticut River Valley, where crime is generally so low that I once lived in a house that had no key, and that was not uncommon.

I have not stopped to count, but in the past few years, it seems that I seen/heard/read about a half-dozen fundraising efforts to support the children of women who have been killed, either by husbands, ex-husbands, or in one case, by a couple who decided they just wanted to kill a woman. This, in my own community, often described as bucolic. Sometimes these murders have come weeks apart, and I confess to struggling to keep one victim straight from another. Often the same sort of story: history of domestic abuse, woman tries to leave, man shoots her, sometimes with children at the scene of the crime.

Trayvon Martin. Ferguson, twice.  Marches, lots of TV coverage, including town hall meetings on CNN. I found some of that coverage educational, thought it was a humble but important step that a country once again take a run at discussing race.

Where, aside from the initial reporting, is this kind of coverage of woman-killing? Surely if this is happening in my own little supposed pristine corner of the universe, it is happening everywhere. Look at the crime statistics about domestic violence from the US government. People hold fundraisers, but aside from an occasional Take Back the Night vigil, no one riots, marches, prevails upon CNN to address the issue.  Even the coverage of domestic violence by professional athletes seems to have come and gone.

I, like the media, have used the words “war on women” in many contexts, most recently to describe attitudes and actions by the Republican Party on a host of admittedly important issues. But there is a different kind of war on women and one that seems to be tolerated. It’s the kind that is not a metaphor, that takes place on the actual battlefield of homes and streets, and at times, even public buses, and women are the ones who end up dead. All with some sad nods, little outrage.

I am/am not Genevieve Bujold

I was attractive enough when I was a younger woman, but I was no Genevieve Bujold. Anne of the Thousand Days, her photo on the cover of Time. Could I possibly ever be as beautiful as Genevieve Bujold, my adolescent self asked over and over? Would not my life be perfect, must not her life be perfect, to hold such beauty in one’s person?

I had not thought of Genevieve Bujold in decades. Last week, she appeared in a photo in my local paper. An area filmmaker, Jay Craven, was screening his latest movie, Northern Borders, about a boy and his grandparents who lived in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. In a still shot from the film, there was Genevieve, unrecognizable in shoddy clothes and knitted cap. I caught the caption and stared. How could this be Genevieve?

And then I realized. Genevieve Bujold had grown older during all of those decades in which I had forgotten about her, had forgotten about wanting to look like her. She is now 70 years old. It was disconcerting, and exciting. I looked at her picture again, and said, “I could now look like Genevieve Bujold.” My own was not the only youthful beauty in a faded state.

I took my husband to see the film, because he spent time in the Northeast Kingdom as a child, but mostly because I had to see Genevieve Bujold. The photo from the newspaper was spot on. Genevieve, hair under a cap, with wrinkles in her face, looking not like the cinematic Anne who had beguiled Henry.

Lush cinematography, beautiful lighting, this film was mesmerizing. And so was Genevieve. The age never left from her face, but after watching her for fifteen minutes or so, I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “I am a little disappointed. She is still quite beautiful.” And then she removed her cap and let down a head of gorgeous silver hair. Mon dieu! This was beauty at 70. As for me, I am going with that.

Why this blog?

I thought turning 60 would be momentous. It was. I know that other people have done it, but it was certainly new to me. I considered a blog, did not get around to it, too busy living the ups and downs of having arrived at my seventh decade. Finally, on a Saturday afternoon, I have gotten down to the business of setting up a blog. Here is my first discovery: There are many other blogs devoted to the subject of turning 60, so much so that my preferred blog name was already taken. First lesson: I seem to have the company of bloggers of a certain age. Second lesson: We all think we have something–maybe even something profound–to say about it. Stay tuned.